Opinion by the Rev. Richenda Fairhurst
This Saturday, perhaps a million women will be participating in a ‘Women’s March’ to draw attention to the issues many women deeply care about. In the face of an election year that was very difficult for so many, the ‘Women’s March on Washington’ formed as a means of proactively pushing back, declaring the value, power, and legitimacy of women.
The Women’s March began as a small pro-woman rally. It has since grown exponentially. Organizers have partnered with many different groups, including Christian groups, and released a strongly worded statement of purpose. A January 17 press release stated that there are now over 600 sister marches in towns and cities all over the country and internationally.
Is it okay for United Methodists to go to a march?
Is it okay for Methodists to get, um, political? The answer is a resounding yes. Not only is it okay, it is actually part of our social responsibility. Our Social Principles affirm:
“The strength of a political system depends upon the full and willing participation of its citizens. The church should continually exert a strong ethical influence upon the state, supporting policies and programs deemed to be just and opposing policies and programs that are unjust.”
Not to mention that the United Methodist Women have been getting, ahem, political, for generations, from abolition to suffrage to temperance to health care to anti-trafficking. In addition, many of the United Methodist General Boards and Agencies exist to fight injustice and to serve the powerless as a voice for peace.
Who is going?
A number of Pacific Northwest United Methodist lay people, clergy, and church leaders are participating in the Marches. Among them is Ann Mayer, a member of Federal Way United Methodist Church. Mayer currently chairs the Pacific Northwest Conference Board of Church and Society. This board is charged with promoting and keeping the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church.
This will be Mayer’s first march. “I am learning to claim my voice,” she says. Mayer explains, “Our roots come from John Wesley who encouraged the people called Methodists to work for justice and those who are not heard.” Mayer sees strength when United Methodists get together to speak out. “The more of us who show up, the more likely we will be heard. Our collective voices will be louder than individual voices.”
Clergy across the Pacific Northwest will also participate, either marching themselves or by providing a space where people can come and express their concerns. Rev. Ruth Marston will be marching in the sister march in Olympia supporting a group of women from Olympia First United Methodist Church who on their own initiative decided to join the march. They range in age from 25-80.
Men are fully invited by the march organizers to be part of this pro-woman march. As such, look for Seattle clergy Rev. John Helmiere at the sister march in Seattle. Rev. Helmiere identifies himself as a “male feminist”—to be a feminist means to believe that women are as worthy and valuable as men. But it goes even farther for Helmiere, “I believe we must demonstrate power, solidarity, and social discontent,” he asserts, in the face of a difficult election campaign.
Cheryl Natland is a member of the United Methodist Women (UMW) and has been a member of the Selah United Methodist Church for 38 years. She decided to march in Yakima when her pastor, Rev. Kendra Behn-Smith, mentioned it. Natland has marched twice before, both times with the UMW to draw attention to the issue of human trafficking.
Natland says she is stepping out again because “it feels good to do something.” Being a United Methodist is important to her, also, in deciding to participate, “I am really not a political person—these marches are pretty new for me.” She appreciates the support of her faith community, explaining “I would not go if I didn’t have someone to go with.” She marches for “women’s rights and human rights.”
How do I participate in the Women’s March?
To learn more about the Women’s March, you can visit their website https://www.womensmarch.com/. There are sister marches located throughout our conference, including in Yakima, Wenatchee, Ephrata, Union, Kingston, Seattle, Bainbridge Island, Langley, Mount Vernon, Olympia, Bellingham, Anacortes, Eastsound, Friday Harbor, Spokane, Walla Walla, Longview, Port Townsend, Richland, Sandpoint ID, and Moscow ID. I myself plan to attend the sister march in Portland, Oregon.
Once you have located the city or town where you want to march, read up about the March there. Most Marches will be organized by local groups and will include speakers and a particular marching route. The March information should include what to bring—things like water, warm clothing, identification, good walking shoes, your cellphone (make sure it is charged)—as well as what not to bring.
Bring a friend.
For sure, though, bring a friend! Not only is it more fun to march together, but it is safer, too. It is also more powerful. We as Christians are always mindful that ‘wherever two or more are gathered, I am there.’ When you show up and speak up as a United Methodist, you do so with the moral authority and conviction of your faith, and as a beloved child of God.
The Rev. Richenda Fairhurst serves at Camas United Methodist Church and is also the Peace with Justice Coordinator for the PNW Conference Board of Church and Society.